MOORHEAD — This city's new high school will be the metro-area's largest, sporting a sprawling multi-level campus that features glass and light throughout.

The new Moorhead High School will soon begin sprouting on the site of the current one, and a separate career academy will open, products of a $110 million bond issue approved by voters in November 2019.

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Moorhead Area Public Schools broke ground Wednesday, June 2, after more than 18 months of planning and preparation by school leaders, architects and community leaders.

High School Principal Dave Lawrence said he’s excited about the physical building and the different approach to learning it will offer.

“It is going to be our flagship building in the district,” Lawrence said.

The high school will be about 25 percent larger than the current one built in the late 1960s.

It will offer natural light to every classroom and dedicated spaces for students and teachers to work collaboratively — features not present in the current school.

The four-year project will present a unique challenge in that construction will occur on new portions of the school while students continue attending classes in the old portions.

The first and largest phase is expected to last more than two years, and the second phase a year or more, with projected completion sometime in the 2024-2025 academic year.

Superintendent Brandon Lunak said the inconvenience and wait will be worth it.

“I just ask for patience as we move through these three to four years because it can only get built in one way and that's to phase it in,” Lunak said.

Dignitaries participate in groundbreaking ceremonies for the new school on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at Moorhead High School. David Samson / The Forum
Dignitaries participate in groundbreaking ceremonies for the new school on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at Moorhead High School. David Samson / The Forum

Challenging construction

Brian Berg, principal architect at Zerr Berg Architects, said it will be a major challenge to build over a four-year period on an active school site, but it’s possible with careful planning.

The new facility, including sports center and existing fieldhouse, will encompass about 500,000 square feet, he said, while the current school portion to be torn down is about 325,000 square feet.

The first phase involves construction of three academic wings directly adjacent to the current high school; one wing that is two stories tall, and two that are three stories tall.

The wings will radiate to the west, the northwest and the north, all connected to a large commons area in the center that will be the “heartbeat” of the school, Berg said.

This rendering image depicts the commons area of the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum
This rendering image depicts the commons area of the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum

The first phase also includes building of a new gymnasium and locker rooms situated on the northeast side of the site, closest to the football field. The new gym will seat 3,000 people.

During phase one construction, the north half of the site will be entirely blocked off to student traffic for safety, Berg said, and students will come into the current school from the south.

Once phase one is done by the fall of 2023, students and staff will move into the new academic wings.

The old school will immediately be torn down to make way for phase two, which includes a new theater, fine arts spaces, and administrative offices. The new theater will seat 1,000 people.

That portion should be finished by late 2024 or early 2025, Berg said.

This rendering image depicts the gymnasium in the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum
This rendering image depicts the gymnasium in the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum

This rendering image depicts the theater in the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum
This rendering image depicts the theater in the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum

Natural light and new spaces

With the current high school, there’s no defined main entrance. Lunak said there are actually 28 access points.

The new school will be safer, he said, with only three main access points.

The dedicated main entrance and parking lot will be on the south side, and there will be entrances on the east and west ends, with defined areas for bus pickups and dropoffs.

This rendering image depicts the main entrance of the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum
This rendering image depicts the main entrance of the new Moorhead High School, being built on the site of the current school. Special to The Forum

There will be no shortage of sunlight in the new school, with natural light coming into every classroom.

In the current school, 80% of the classrooms, some of them located in the basement, do not have windows, Lawrence said.

Another feature that students and teachers will appreciate is collaborative spaces built into the academic wings and the commons area.

Lawrence said “neat furniture” that both students and staff will enjoy will be part of those spaces.

The new academic wings should be quieter than the current school setup that has a noisier, almost “racetrack” design.

The new school will have space for about 2,100 students. Current enrollment, including the school’s online academy, is just under 1,900, he said.

Career Academy ready this fall

Although the ceremonial kickoff of the project is happening this week, construction actually began last year on a new Career Academy, which was part of the bond issue approved by voters.

The academy, housed in the former Sam’s Club building at 2800 27th Ave. S., will be home to courses including trades and industries, Family and Consumer Sciences and possibly Health Sciences.

Work continues outside of the new MAPS Career Academy at the old Sam's Club building location in south Moorhead on Friday, May 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Work continues outside of the new MAPS Career Academy at the old Sam's Club building location in south Moorhead on Friday, May 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

It will also be home to the district’s alternative learning high school.

Opening this fall, the career academy offers 170,000 square feet of space with a capacity to serve up to 700 students.

Lunak said at any given time, there will be approximately 300 high school students attending classes there, based on the programming that will be offered.

“We believe it's a one-high school experience district still, but with two campuses,” he said.

Other construction that’s been ongoing involves parking around the current high school.

New parking lots have been added to the east and west ends of the school because the big northside parking lot will be lost to construction.

Footings and foundation should be going into the ground on the north side of the site within the next few weeks, Berg said.

Lunak said the pandemic taught everyone lessons in flexibility, which will be valuable over the course of this construction.

“I view this project as being no different,” he said.